Do you tautologise?

TautologyI bet you do. In fact, I’m sure you do from time to time. Maybe rarely, but I’m certain you’ve done it at least once. In fact, I know you have because I’ve come across quite often in the books I’ve reviewed.

Tautology. What is it? It’s “the use of words that merely repeat elements of the meaning already conveyed”, e.g.: they arrived one after the other in succession. ‘In succession’ means ‘one after the other’. In effect, that sentence says: they arrived one after the other one after the other.

It’s an easy trap to fall into when you’re writing, but it’s something to try to spot in your scrupulously thorough self-editing. However, as with most glitches, it’s more likely to be spotted by your beta reader or editor.

What are common examples of tautology ? Here are some you may recognise and just may have used yourself. Some are taken from books I have reviewed:

First priority—priority is a fact or condition that is more important than others, so ‘first’ is redundant.

Prediction about the future—a prediction is a forecast of something that may happen in the future.  ‘Prediction’ on its own would do.

Over-exaggerate—to exaggerate is to represent (something) as being larger, better, or worse than it really is, i.e. to over-state it. So the  ‘over’ in ‘over-exaggerate’ is unnecessary.

Nod one’s head—(a common one, this one)—to nod means “lower and raise one’s head slightly and briefly, especially in greeting, assent, or understanding, or to give someone a signa”l. ‘Nod’, on its own, would suffice.

Four p.m. in the afternoon—hardly likely to be four p.m. in the morning, is it?

Whisper in a low voice—to whisper is to speak in a very low or soft voice.

It’s sort of like—not sure if I even have to explain that one!

Murmur sotto voce—murmur is to speak in a very low or indistinct voice.  Sotto voce is ‘in a quiet voice’.

Give away free tickets/free gift—if you’re giving it away, it’s free…

Please RSVP—RSVP is Repondez S’il Vous Plaît. ‘S’il vous plaît’ is French for ‘please’.

Necessary requirement—a requirement is something that is needed or wanted (i.e. necessary).

Adequate enough

New innovation

Shout it out loud—to shout is to…well, you know, don’t you?

A very common one, that has become accepted in modern usage, is ‘reason why’. (As have added bonus and close proximity which are, in fact, tautological.) The reason is why.

The reason why I went to the doctor, was because I sprained my ankle.

The reason I went to the doctor, was because I sprained my ankle.

Why did you go to the doctor? I sprained my ankle, that’s the reason why.

Why did you go to the doctor? I sprained my ankle, that’s the reason.

I’ll wager that if you now look through your work, you’ll probably find one or two examples. Tautology is slightly different to pleonasm or prolixity, which are, basically, tediously using too many words to describe something. Or, put plainly: verbal diarrhoea. Is tautology wrong or grammatically incorrect? Not really. However, it is unnecessary.

But…if you are guilty of the odd tautological slip-up, you’re in good company. Even the famous do it, you know:  “I want to live while I am alive” – Bon Jovi

Author: Cathy Speight

Reviewer Cathy Speight is British and lives in England. The Kindle revived her passion for reading and after stumbling on a Facebook group of independent authors, she now does her best to encourage and assist indies as much as possible. Books by indie author form the majority of her collection. Cathy shares her views on the books she has read on her blog.

34 thoughts on “Do you tautologise?”

  1. Good list, though I’ll quibble with RSVP. A lot of people don’t know what the exact French translation means, so the please is done more as a backstop kindness.

    The only reason I could see writing that in a novel is because your characters are speaking/writing it, and in America, please is the norm when bein polite, and I’ve seen please RSVP on many invitations (despite it’s redundancy).

    Here’s a question, though. Are these rules gor dialogue, too or just the narrator. I’d contend many people say “first priority” or “top priority” and therefore it eould be fine in dialogue if that’s how your character expresses himself.

  2. Of course, it IS ok to use tautology sometimes. Especially in dialogue. Many of the examples given above “ring true” in dialogue because people do talk like that. We talk about our “first priorities” or the “general concensus”.

    Caution is warranted. But dialogue should follow what the character woukd say, the phrases that person would use. Including the occasional tautology.

  3. I want to throw in a kitchen one that most people miss. A common term on menus reads “with au jus.” The translation of this is “with with juice.” Au jus is a French term referring to the sauce created when cooking the meat item (generally in a braise). Proper usage would be with jus.

  4. This was the funniest thing I’ve read all day! So true, too.

    But – um – little boo-boo you may want to fix – Please RSPV—RSPV is supposed to be RSVP. Someone a bit dyslexic this morning?

  5. Great post Cathy! And you’re right, these are very easy things to do when writing, because half of the writer’s thoughts are usually on the phrasing the next sentence. This is one of the biggest reasons we should edit. Thanks!

  6. “First priority—priority is a fact or condition that is more important than others, so ‘first’ is redundant.”

    “First priority” is not a tautology and neither is the ‘first’ redundant. Read your own definition. “fact or condition that is more important than OTHERS.” Nothing there says ‘ALL OTHERS’. We make priority lists, we organize ourselves according to priorities (not the plural). The only “first priority” is the one at the top of the list. But, per your definition, the “second priority” is more important than the third, fourth, etc…priorities on the list.

    Cheers — Larry

    1. Depends on the context. Priority also means: the right of precedence over others, prime concern, first concern, primary issue, most pressing matter. In which case, first priority would be tautologising. A woolly area.

  7. I’ve been known — very, very occasionally — to report that someone has been fatally killed. 😉

    Good list, Cathy. Another is “ATM machine”; “ATM” is short for “automated teller machine.”

  8. Really appreciated this post, Cathy. Many of the examples are engrained in our noggins from everyday speech. Because of this, I find it easy to glance over in my own writing as I look for problems during editing.

    Thanks for highlighting :))

  9. Mmm, I appear to be guilty of a couple of them. Will pass this article on to my editor and she can set me straight. 😀

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